Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Like Dirt: Pouring the foundation...

Photo of landscape painting with clay by Patty Rosenblatt.

Rehearsals for Like Dirt have begun. Watching choreographer Rachel Cohen over the years work with dancers, costume designers and make up artists to put together short as well as evening length pieces has inspired me to gradually develop my own compositional methods into a similarly loose much more collaborative approach. To be clear, with regards to Like Dirt - I have not been asked to score a pre-choreographed dance. Like Dirt is more of a workshop styled series of rehearsals that culminate into a final series of performances. We are building the piece from the ground up, making up our own creation myth.

For the past couple months, Rachel, artist Patty Rosenblatt and I have been to some extent working on Like Dirt independently of each other. We’ve emailed each other excerpts from essays, articles, photos and samples of music all related to the concepts that are fueling Like Dirt. For example, Patty shared with Rachel and I a wonderful passage from Thoreau's Walden describing the earth as a sort of artist’s laboratory with wonderful descriptions of the human body as a natural malleable landscape. Earlier, I created "mix tapes" for the ensemble and Rachel of music that was inspiring my own compositional ideas for Like Dirt (Neil Young's soundtrack for the film "Dead Man," the famous Balinese Ketchak monkey chant and Blind Willie Johnson's haunting "Dark Was The Night, Cold The Ground" are a few tracks that ended up on the mix CDs). I also created a page on MySpace ((www.myspace.com/hoodoohouse) as a place for me to post my own musical sketches for Like Dirt for Rachel, Patty and the musicians to preview if they so desired. This weekend, the three of us plus dancers get into a studio to try movement with clay and music. The photo above is of a clay pour Patty has done in anticipation of our rehearsal; the clay will dry and crack and be used by the dancers to construct and interact with forms suggestive of geological formations. I may post some photos from this initial rehearsal in the future.

My music for Like Dirt currently exists as a series of cues - some notated, some consisting of written directions - that are realized as "charts" with names to set apart each chart according to the mood, style and construct of the music ("Building Groove," "Honey Gathering," "Blind Willie," etc.) Each chart can be interpreted by the musicians in rehearsal and performance according to the needs of Rachel's dancers. The dancers' movement will inspire (to list three concrete examples) the dynamics of a cue, the character of an improvised passage superimposed over a composed cue and/or the placement of musical punctuations. How movement - physical movement - inspires the musical decision making is a bit hard to explain...but I'd like to take a shot at that some other time.

I probably wouldn't be working this way if I hadn't already composed a lot of music for Rachel in the past. And I doubt most choreographers would be comfortable working with another composer in this manner unless they already had an intimate knowledge of that person's music and working methods. We are to a certain extent giving up some control to
the universe - assuming that it'll all come together in the process of rehearsals and experimentation. The trick is to not worry about the end result and instead focus on tapping into the collective spirit of the work and generating as much material as possible. It's a quirkier, more proecess oriented way of working - and I enjoy it.

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